IN the meantime, things had been moving at home, if not swiftly, at least surely, towards the desired goal of bringing back the men who had been so unjustly transported. Dr. Wakley’s famous House of Commons speech had borne fruit in more directions than one. It was on June 25th, that the speech was made. It had come after the production by Wakley, at an earlier session of Parliament, of a petition signed by 130,000 people asking for the Dorsetshire Labourers to be brought back. Lord John Russell requested Mr. Wakley to postpone the motion as the Government had already recommended a partial remission of the sentences. This, Wakley refused to do, and made his speech and took the vote.
The wives of the men who had gone abroad had been refused parish relief. They were destitute and in a sorry state. A Committee was formed, and money was collected for the purpose of helping these stricken families. That Committee was called the London-Dorchester Committee, and consisted of Effingham Wilson, of 11, Royal Exchange, H. Hetherington, of 126, Strand, Cleave, of Shoe Lane, Strange, of Paternoster Row, with Secretary Robert Hartwell, a London printer. The last named was a man of great energy and enterprise. He was on fire with indignation, as indeed were the other members of the Committee. Mr. Hartwell’s connexion with the printing trade greatly helped the organization. He sent out appeals, and personally collected money from the many influential people who were interested.
There were wealthy men among the Members of Parliament who had supported the House of Commons motion. The greatest newspaper of the country was not without its interest in the agitation. True, The Times invariably opposed everything connected with Trades Unionism, and categorically stated about this case that it was unfortunate that the men had been condemned for a crime they had not committed, and were wrongfully sentenced, whereas they had actually committed the terrible crime of combination for which there was no punishment. Although it hated the idea of men combining to resist the will of their masters, it was fair-minded enough to abominate the invention of a non-existent crime by Baron Williams. And however much it condemned Trade Unionism, it felt that the sentence was a very savage one.
Hartwell used all the assets he had very skilfully, and was able to pay to the relations of the men who were away, sufficient week by week to keep them in more comfortable circumstances than they had enjoyed. His propaganda continued, and Trade Union circles were kept in touch with the movement. One result of this savage sentence was that to put themselves beyond the law, the Trades Unions took out of their regulations the secret oath portion. Otherwise, instead of damping down Unionism, as the Government had hoped, the chance of doing something on behalf of others served to strengthen them. Moral indignation welded men together, and those who had been timid came into the open. There was no lack of men and women who would demonstrate against a Government capable of such tyranny.
Soon after her letter from her husband, asking her to go out to him arrived, Mrs. Loveless showed it to Robert Hartwell on one of his periodical visits. What should she do? Did her husband need her? Was it true that he would never come back? Would they be better off in Tasmania? What would Mr. Hartwell advise?
‘Mrs. Loveless,’ he said, ‘your husband cannot have known when he wrote that letter, that the Government have undertaken to bring him back free of cost, and that, when a few preliminaries have been gone through, he is a free man. The Governor of Tasmania ought to know by this time. It is just possible that something has gone wrong with the dispatches. The mails are lost in a sinking ship sometimes, and other things may happen. But it makes no difference to the facts. He is to be released, and all the others with him. We have collected enough money to make a big grant to each of the men, so that they will be able to take farms of their own if they want. So you write and tell him you don’t want to go out to him, and that you want him back here as soon as ever he is free to come. You don’t want to go, do you?’
‘No, sir, that I don’t. George and others have put up with the voyage and the hardships, but what we poor women would do I don’t know. And however should I get the little ones over? No, sir. If George can come home, we can be happy here. It is true that they are going to let him off, is it?’
‘They promised that in the House of Commons. They said orders had already gone, and if they have taken as much notice of those orders as they do of anything to punish people, then they should all be on their way home by now.’
‘Oh, sir, but George would never come after writing this letter until he heard from me. It would be terrible if I arrived there only to find that he had come away. Nay, I know George too well to think he wouldn’t have more care for us than that.’
‘I daresay you are right, Mrs. Loveless. In that case you cannot expect him for at least another year, because your letter will have to travel to him and then there is the long voyage back for him. But he is coming. Keep your heart up. The worst is over now, and we shall be celebrating their return before you know where you are. We will keep up these payments to you and the others until the men come home.’
The letter was duly sent by Mrs. Loveless and received by her husband on December 23rd, 1836.
In the meantime, Mrs. Loveless’s instincts had been right. On February 5th, 1836, he was set at liberty. A ticket of leave was given to him by the same magistrate he had met before, Mr. Spode, couched in the following terms:
‘I am directed by his Excellency the Governor in accordance with the wish of His Majesty’s Government to give George Loveless (854, per William Metcalf) a ticket, exempting him from Government labour, to employ himself to his own advantage until further orders. Principal, Superintendent’s Office, Josiah Spode, February 5th, 1836.’
He was free—free in a strange country where nobody knew him, without money, without recommendation except his own honest face and independent mien. Was that an advantage where convict labour was so general? He had no clothing, no money, no friends, no home. He travelled the country seeking employment with all the pertinacity he had displayed on other occasions. He walked as much as fifty miles in a day without ever breaking his fast. He got more confirmed than ever in the old opinion that he expressed when he arrived at Hobart that he had come to the wrong end of the world. It took him a week or two to get a situation at all. It is surprising that he got it so quickly. It was only for a short time, but he could then spend some money on advertising in the newspaper, and from that he got a master in whose employ he remained until he left the Colony. His address was, of course, registered at the police office in Hobart. His master respected his intelligence and used to pass his newspapers on to him. Early in September he read in The London Dispatch that Lord John Russell gave notice that ‘orders were forwarded that the Dorchester Unionists were not only to be set at liberty, but also to be sent back to England, free of expense, and with every necessary comfort.’
On September 18th the Hobart Town Tasmanian copied the above statement from the English newspapers as a sort of oblique defence of Governor Arthur’s administration. The Governor was being very freely criticized in the Colony on all sides at this time. He had very few friends, but the Tasmanian was a powerful advocate on his behalf. And so they spoke of the gentlemanly spirit and humanity of Colonel Arthur, and suggested that it was so well known that undoubtedly it had led him to send the whole of the men back before that time. Furthermore, said the Tasmanian, the humanity of Colonel Arthur was proved by the whole of his conduct in regard to these men, for orders were sent from the home Government to work the Dorchester Unionists on the roads in irons, but that order had not been put into execution by the Governor, thereby relieving the Secretary of State from retracting what he had said in the House of Commons, that the men had not been subjected to any extraordinary punishment.
Loveless thought that surely now he would hear something about this free passage home that had been promised. He waited three weeks before acting, and thought of writing to the Governor on the matter. But, fearing a private letter might be lost, he decided to send to the Editor of the Tasmanian, and wrote in the following terms:
‘Of late, frequent mention has been made in the Tasmanian of the men known as the Dorchester Unionists, and of the Home Government in reference to them. Last week you mentioned the subject again, and observed ‘no doubt that Colonel Arthur has sent the whole of the men home before this time’. I do not know whether Governor Arthur has received orders from home; I should like to know. If his Excellency has received intelligence to that effect, I hope he will have the goodness to communicate that knowledge to me before he leaves these shores. I hereby offer you my sincere thanks for the sympathy you manifest towards the fate of some half-dozen humble individuals, who, in 1834, were transported to these colonies for unwillingly and ignorantly giving offence. Few can imagine—experience alone teaches—.what it is to be bereaved of and torn from those who are dear to us; and who are still dearer to me than could possible be all the treasures of the world—wife and children.
A DORCHESTER UNIONIST.
Soon after the publication of this letter, Loveless’s master received a communication from the Governor to ask if George Loveless was living with him, and if so to tell him that the Governor wished to see him at Hobart Town. The master gave the information about the Governor’s enquiry, but omitted to tell him that he was wanted by the Governor. However, Loveless wrote and said that he was living at the house of Major de Gillern, at Genayr, near Richmond. To this came the reply from Josiah Spode on October 6th saying that with reference to the letter from the Governor to Major Gilern a few days since ‘requesting that you should call upon me at this office, I have now to inform you that the reason of His Excellency wishing to see you is in consequence of the Secretary of State when he sent the order for your free pardon having authorized His Excellency to give you a free passage to England, and he therefore wishes to be informed whether you are willing to go back; in that case His Excellency will give a free passage by the Elphinstone! This letter required an answer to be sent by bearer.
The answer was naturally governed by the fact that he did not know whether or not his wife was actually on the way to join him.
‘I highly appreciate the kind offer of His Excellency the Governor in giving me a free passage to England by the Elphinstone. I would most gladly embark, as I have a strong wish to go back, but consider that I have placed myself in a very awkward situation. His Excellency knows that I have been persuaded to send for my wife, and for aught I know she now may be on the water, it being nine months since the invitation left this country. It would be a dreadful thing for me to leave before I have heard of my wife, to know if she intends coming or not, for her to find when she arrives at Hobart Town, I had gone to London. I hope I may be allowed to remain until I hear from her, and if she is not coming, to claim a free passage to England.’
In reply to this reasonable request was received the following curt note:
‘George Loveless. In answer to your note, wishing to know if you could be allowed a passage to England, I have to inform you that unless you go by the present opportunity, the Government will not be able to give you a free passage.
‘Josiah Spode, October 15th, 1836.’
Of course, Loveless could not risk going. Ten days afterwards he called at the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Hobart Town and asked to speak with him.
‘I have called, sir,’ he said, ‘to know if I can be allowed to stop in the Colony until I shall have received communication from my wife?’
‘You have been told what can be done,’ was the reply. ‘You were sent for to see the Governor some time ago, but you seem to pay no attention to the authorities: nothing more can be done for you.’
I think, sir, mine is a hard case,’ pleaded Loveless. ‘I was urged by the Governor to send for my wife and family, and I know not but they are coming, and yet I must be forced to leave before sufficient time has been allowed me to ascertain whether they come or not.’
‘Well, why did you not obey the Governor when he sent for you? It appears you altogether treat the authorities with disrespect.’
‘I have no wish to disobey those in authority, but the reason why I did not proceed to Hobart Town, in compliance with the first request, I was not told that I was wanted. My master only told me the Governor wanted to know if I was living in his service; and lately I could not come because of my master’s illness, he having been for some time at Hobart Town under the doctor’s care.’
‘Well, but the Governor has an order to send you back by the first ship.’
‘I think, sir,’ said Loveless, voicing a suspicion that had been growing on him, ‘you had a free pardon for me some considerable time longer before I knew anything about it, than I have delayed coming since I have known it.’
‘Yes, my good fellow,’ replied the Secretary. ‘But the reason of that was, we did not know where to send for you.’
‘I beg your pardon, but that could not be the reason, as the place I called my home is registered in the police office by order of the Governor.’
‘The order is that you are to be sent home immediately.’
‘You say, sir, the King’s pardon is in your office, and yet I am to be sent home as a prisoner. I was sent out a prisoner, contrary to my wishes, and with a free pardon I am to he sent back a prisoner, contrary to my wishes. I hope Mr. Montague will place himself in my position for a few minutes: I know he is a husband and a father.’
‘Well, Loveless, what do you want?’
‘I want a promise from the Governor that I shall be indulged with the privilege of stopping a few months, until I shall receive a letter from my wife, and if she is not coming to Van Dieman’s Land, to have something to show that I may claim a free passage to England.’
‘I will draw up a memorandum myself, and see what can be done for you, and you shall know the result in a few days.’
Loveless won his point. The letter of permission came to him, and he was now fully fortified for anything that might happen. The exact text of the letter in view of this conversation is of interest, and I therefore give it in full
‘Principal Superintendent’s Office, October 24th, 1836.
‘Memorandum with reference to a former notification addressed to you from this Office, relative to a free pardon, having been ordered for you from England, I am now to inform you that His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor is pleased to approve of that indulgence being issued to you immediately: and I am further to acquaint you, in consequence of your having expressed your disinclination to embark for England by the Elphinstone, from having written some months ago to your wife to join you with your three children in this Colony, and that you are therefore anxious to await the result of that
communication, that, in the event of your expectation not being fulfilled as it regards the arrival of your family, and which an interval of three or four months may determine, His Excellency has been pleased to direct that a free passage is to be then offered you by the Government that you may return to England.
It is a circumstance at which one never ceases to wonder that a man who can argue his case so splendidly, with perfect courtesy, but never missing a point in a contest with men of education and position, is the same man whose worth in England had been esteemed to be about seven shillings per week. This Dorsetshire peasant was a rare genius.
On December 23rd came the letter from his wife. No time was lost in acquainting the Colonial Secretary with the fact she was not coming, and that therefore Loveless wished to embark at once for England and claimed the free passage promised. A passage was given to him on the ship Eveline, Captain Jamieson, in the forecastle, with steerage passenger’s allowance, and he boarded her on January 28th, sailing on Monday, January 30th, arriving in London on June 20th, 1837, just seven days before the death of King William the Fourth. He was the only one of the six to reach England before the accession of Queen Victoria.
Just before he sailed he received a letter from his nephew, John Standfleld, who with the other four men had been in Australia since landing. It showed him that he was the first to get away, and so he wrote back, giving hints as to how they should go to work to secure their release and a free passage to England.